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Shasta County sheriff presents plan to reopen closed jail floor

A tall, 7 story, beige, brutalist building. The windows on the higher levels are thin, vertical slits. Letters over an entrance in the bottom right corner read "Shasta County Jail"
Roman Battaglia
JPR News
The Shasta County Jail in Redding, August 17, 2023.

Last Tuesday, the Shasta County sheriff presented his latest plan to reopen a currently closed floor of the county jail. Staffing shortages forced the closure more than a year ago.

Closing the 3rd floor of the jail has led the sheriff’s office to release some low-risk offenders because of a lack of space to hold them.

At a county supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Sheriff Michael Johnson offered his idea to fill at least 15 vacant positions and reopen the jail floor.

His plan includes expanding the number of Public Safety Service Officers in the facility. These support staff wouldn’t have contact with the jail population, but could take over basic responsibilities from deputies, like overseeing security panels or other administrative duties.

“If I replace that with a PSSO, I can now take that corrections deputy and put them on that floor that’s closed," said Johnson. "And if I do enough of those, then I operate the whole matrix without being critically impacted by just correctional deputy positions.”

Johnson's plan also includes changing the way outside administrative needs are staffed for the jail. Under this plan, programs like court transportation and processing, video arraignments and state transportation would be staffed by patrol deputies, which Johnson said are easier to hire. The correctional deputies that currently run those programs could be absorbed back into the jail to oversee operations.

Johnson said this plan is similar to another successful program in Placer County.

In total, the plan would add around $1.7 million to the county budget. That's much cheaper than two other proposals the sheriff has brought forward, which cost upwards of $6-8 million.

Johnson said the sheriff's department will also be saving around $800,000 because of a new contract with the U.S. Marshal's Office to take over court transportation duties.

To get the jail open faster, Johnson said he’s hoping other county police and law enforcement can provide support with their own officers.

“I want them all to lend me one body" Johnson said. "And we’ll pull some bodies from the other county departments as well and we can get the floor open.”

But that proposal has received pushback from the police chief in Anderson. In a letter on the department’s Facebook page, Police Chief Jon Poletski said working in the jail requires specialized training, and that police unions are not on board with the sheriff's request.

Sheriff Johnson said getting the jail reopened and fully staffed is a huge priority for the community.

The board of supervisors voted to direct county staff to look at the plan and report back at a future meeting.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast.